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Science & Environment

One-Third Of Florida Residents Told To Evacuate Before Hurricane Irma Makes Landfall


We're going to start the program today, as you might imagine, in Florida, where a third of the state's residents - more than 6.5 million people - have been told to evacuate for Hurricane Irma. That storm is now a Category 3 hurricane, with winds blowing up to 125 miles per hour. The center of the storm is expected to hit the Florida Keys tomorrow morning and travel up the West Coast of the Florida peninsula. NPR's Greg Allen is part of the NPR crew in South Florida, and he's with us now. Greg, thanks for much for being with us.


MARTIN: So what's the latest on Hurricane Irma? And where do we expect the greatest impacts?

ALLEN: Well, we just got a new update from the National Hurricane Center, which is conveniently located here in Miami. And Irma is leaving Cuba around now. At some point later today, it's going to take this turn to the northwest and start heading across the Florida Straits and come up and make some kind of contact with Florida, kind of coming on a path, as you said, along this - along the western coast of Florida. It's going to have a significant impact because it's so large. It's - this hurricane's winds will extend about 70 miles out from the center. And that means it's going to push a lot of water in front of it when it's coming because it's so big. And they're talking about a 10 to 15-foot storm surge along much of southwest Florida. So that's from an area from Naples all the way up to Fort Myers and beyond, which is going - a lot of those areas are going to be inundated. And so that's what we're going to be seeing here over the next day or so.

MARTIN: I was going to ask you, just - could you talk a little bit more about the timing? Can you specify a little bit more about the timing? Maybe you can't. I don't know.

ALLEN: Well, they're pretty good on the tracking on Irma. What they're saying is it's going to make some contact with Key West tomorrow around 8 a.m. or so. So in the morning, we're going to see - Key West is going to get almost a direct hit from the storm. It's going to go right over it with these pummeling winds and rain. And then it's going to come up the coast. It'll be going through communities like Naples, Fort Myers all day tomorrow until late in the evening. Sarasota, Tampa Bay all are in the path with this big storm surge, lots of rain and these big winds. We'll see. It may - the storm may intensify before it hits the mainland, so we might see winds even above 125 miles per hour.

MARTIN: So, Greg, you live in Miami. Do you mind if I ask, did you have to evacuate?

ALLEN: Yeah. We're in an area that is an evacuation zone. We did not expect to have to evacuate, but then when the storm veered to our - to - the path was going to bring it right through Miami, they extended the evacuation order to some 600,000 people. So that included us. We moved with some of the NPR reporters who were here. We're in a hotel near the airport here in Miami. There's more than 40 shelters opened. A bunch of them are full here. And as the path has shifted, evacuations now have been called all along the Gulf Coast of Florida, all the way up to Tampa Bay. So it's - a very significant number of people have moved away from the coast to be away from the storm.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Greg, very briefly if you can, has Florida ever seen anything like this?

ALLEN: Well, the thing people compare it to is Andrew, which just hit one small area. This is going to hit the entire state. I don't know if we've ever seen a storm that's done that before, so it could be even bigger than Andrew.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Greg Allen watching the arrival of Hurricane Irma in Miami. Greg, thank you.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.